LGBT Rights in Russia: A Human Rights Crisis

As the Western world is taking progressive steps toward recognising the rights of the LGBT community, Russia is moving backwards at a frightening pace. Earlier this year, Russia passed laws making it illegal to spread “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual behaviours” to minors (under 18’s) – effectively outlawing the expression of homosexuality. Violating these laws is punishable by hefty fines, and can lead to arrest and imprisonment. Despite these harsh penalties, the laws implemented by the Russian Government do not define what constitutes homosexual propaganda, leading many human rights bodies to point out that merely admitting to being gay or stating your support for homosexuals can – and is – now construed as a crime. As activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva has highlighted, the propaganda law is “a step toward the Middle Ages”.

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The systemic repression of homosexuality is not new in Russia. While laws that made sex between men punishable by 5 years imprisonment were abolished after the Soviet Union’s fall, there are no laws to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination or harassment on the basis of their sexual or gender identity. Homophobia is still entrenched within Russian culture – and is in fact, on the rise.

A recent study examining the global divide on homosexuality reported that 74% of Russians agree that homosexuality is unacceptable – a 14% increase since 2002 – while only 16% of Russians said that homosexuality should be allowed by society. Further, following the introduction of the propaganda laws, Russia’s gay community have been the target of emotional and physical violence. A 23-year-old man was sodomised with beer bottles, tortured and murdered by two of his friends in May after coming out as gay. In June, two women were arrested after they were reported by members of the public for hugging on a train. This month, a Russian Neo-Nazi group published video of themselves bullying and torturing a gay youth who they had arranged a meeting with using a fake social media account. Russia’s LGBT community are under attack.

In addition to prohibiting gay propaganda, Moscow has banned Pride marches for 100 years, while President Putin’s government have introduced a new law that will make uttering “gay” in public a crime. In further violation of human rights, Putin’s government are also legislating to prohibit any action that may insult an individual’s “religious feelings”. Just like the gay propaganda law, this law is vague in its wording, and could be twisted to render any statement against a belief in God a crime. According to the US Commission on International Rights and Religious Freedoms, “If enacted, this new law gives credence to the view…that Russia is in full retreat from democracy and the rule of law.”

This backwards momentum is gaining attention on an international stage – the Russian crisis is receiving coverage on world news sites, and many gay bars in America have stopped serving Russian vodka in protest of the propaganda laws. But as the situation worsens, more meaningful steps need to be taken to preserve LGBT rights and human safety.

What can we, as Australians, do?

A key point for human rights activists is the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are to be held in Russia. Despite previous assurance that LGBT athletes and fans would be exempt from arrest, the most recent statement from officials indicates that Russia will not suspend their anti-gay laws for the games – compromising the safety of athletes, coaches, fans and their supporters.

In spite of this, the International Olympic Committee is yet to condemn Russia’s anti-gay laws – but if the IOC did, President Putin would be pressured to take action against the violence and repression currently inflicted upon the Russian homosexual community.

Click here to sign the All Out petition aimed at the IOC, calling for the condemnation of Russia’s stance on homosexuality.

Closer to home, Australian activists are campaigning to the Melbourne City Council to abolish its status as a sister city to St Petersburg, where every participant in a gay pride rally was arrested in June. Severing ties with the city would send a message that Australia does not condone the limitations of human freedom imposed by the Russian government.

Click here to sign the petition to the Melbourne City Council on Change.org.

In Russia, freedom of thought is being radically compromised; freedom of speech is being actively legislated against.

We need to use our voices to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

By Jessica Lydiard

Photo Credit: torbakhopper

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